child's drawing Nina Pinta Santa Maria Columbus Day

I have moved across the country a couple of times, and it still surprises me, this particular day of the year, how, in the West, Columbus Day is not a thing, but in several places on the East Coast, it is still celebrated as a holiday (of sorts).

When I was a kid, this was a day off from school--which was ALWAYS a good thing--and leading up to it we learned about the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, maybe memorized a few lines about 1492, and that was about it. Alternatively, a New York Italian friend of mine is angered that we have ruined what, for him and so many, had become a heritage pride day. DOn't get me wrong--I'm all for Italian or any other heritage pride--but not so much when it is labeled for one of the most ANTI of anti-heroes.

Many U.S. communities, and even states, have done away with mention of the explorer/marauder/genocide-in-the-name-of-kingdom perpetrator, and substituted Indigenous Peoples Day, or Native American Awareness Day--good choices, especially within the embarrassing context of professional sports teams that steadfastly remain so clueless and hurtful with their inability to grow up and evolve...

We've gotten some new holidays since my youth--Martin Luther King, Jr now has a day--a few have morphed--Washington and Lincoln are now lumped together to share one February "President's Day"--and some seem to have gone away--not so many elementary school kids are making May Day baskets out of supermarket strawberry containers and leaving them on the doorsteps of elderly neighbors...and I don't hear about Arbor Day recognition and activities on the playgrounds anymore (though I wish I did hear of it--any day is a good day to plant a tree)

If you've got the day off today, or have kids home from school, spend a little time discussing the evolution of who and what we choose to celebrate. There's a reason we stopped celebrating the use of the atomic bomb on Japan with VJ Day (Victory Over Japan Day--ended in 1975) that we know Columbus was such a lousy S.O.B....isn't it about time we caught up to what we already know is right?

I'm all for a day off, and fine if the banks and post office want to stay dark on a particular Monday, but really, shouldn't it be because we are all proud of a thing--and not ashamed of a thing, like Columbus?

**as always, these opinions are mine, and not necessarily yours/theirs/ours/anyone else's**

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About The Author

Andrew Mersmann's picture

Andrew is the author of Frommer's global guide to volunteer vacations, "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" (Gold Medal Winner from Society of American Travel Writers: Best Guide Book 2010). He spent more than a decade on the editorial team of PASSPORT Magazine. He has volunteered and led teams on service projects around the world, and is honored to be on the boards of directors for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation ( and Mentor Artists Playwrights Project ( Mersmann has been a featured speaker, interview guest, or moderator on several travel talks, from the New York Times Travel Show, Smithsonian Associates, and the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa to Oprah and Friends, Animal House, and The Focus Group on satellite radio as well as on NY1 television. Past participant at the Clinton Global Initiative and judge for Condé Nast World Changers Conference, he blogs about volunteering and service travel at As part of the evox television team, he is dedicated to audience engagement, so if you're not engaged, he needs to be thumped on the head (gently)...or at least told (nicely). Twitter: /ChangeByDoing

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